High Renaissance is a term which is generally taken to refer to art produced in Italy in the early decades of the 16th century when the careers of the great Renaissance masters, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo overlapped. The technical mastery and graceful harmony they achieved in their work was held up as the ideal by writers such as Vasari.
In art history, the High Renaissance is the period denoting the apogee of the visual arts in the Italian Renaissance. The period is traditionally taken to begin in the 1490s, with Leonardo’s fresco of the Last Supper in Milan and the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence, and to have ended in 1527 with the sacking of Rome by the troops of Emperor Charles V. The term was first used in German (Hochrenaissance) in the early 19th century and has its origins in the “High Style” of painting and sculpture described by Johann Joachim Winckelmann. Over the last twenty years, the use of the term has been frequently criticized by academic art historians for oversimplifying artistic developments, ignoring historical context, and focusing only on a few iconic works.
The High Renaissance refers to the art of Papal Rome, Florence and the Republic of Venice from 1500 to 1530. With the painting of the High Renaissance, Western art reaches its peak, and brings works of art universal in scope.
Masters of this period include Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Raphael (1483-1520).
Leonardo da Vinci brings the technique of sfumato to virtuosity in his paintings.
Since the late eighteenth century, the High Renaissance has been taken to refer to a short (c. 30-year) period of exceptional artistic production in the Italian states, principally Rome, capital of the Papal States, under Pope Julius II. Assertions about where and when the period begins and ends vary, but in general the best-known exponents of painting of the High Renaissance, include Leonardo da Vinci, early Michelangelo and Raphael. Extending the general rubric of Renaissance culture, the visual arts of the High Renaissance were marked by a renewed emphasis upon the classical tradition, the expansion of networks of patronage, and a gradual attenuation of figural forms into the style later termed Mannerism.
The paintings in the Vatican by Michelangelo and Raphael are said by some scholars such as Stephen Freedberg to represent the culmination of High Renaissance style in painting, because of the ambitious scale of these works, coupled with the complexity of their composition, closely observed human figures, and pointed iconographic and decorative references to classical antiquity, can be viewed as emblematic of the High Renaissance. In more recent years, art historians have characterised the High Renaissance as a movement as opposed to a period, one amongst several different experimental attitudes towards art in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. This movement is variously characterised as conservative; as reflecting new attitudes towards beauty; a deliberate process of synthesising eclectic models, linked to fashions in literary culture; and reflecting new preoccupations with interpretation and meaning.
The period that precedes it is the early or initial Renaissance ; and the one that continues is the late or final Renaissance. The term Under Renaissance is misleading in its use, even in the specialized bibliography, designating both one and the other. Sometimes the second Renaissance expression is used as equivalent to “high” (being that initial Renaissance a “first Renaissance”).
High Renaissance in Italy
In the Italian Renaissance there is the replacement of Florence by Rome as the most prestigious artistic center (it is usual to use the expression Florentine-Roman renaissance). 3 Florence was shaken by violent social and political movements, which included the rise and fall of Savonarola and the expulsion of the Medici. In Rome, the ambitious artistic program of the Vatican (St. Peter’s Basilica, Sistine Chapel, Estancias de Rafael) attracted a constellation of first-rate artists: Bramante,Sangallo, the aforementioned Rafael and Miguel Ángel; among which are those that will stand out in the following period, considered Mannerist (Giulio Romano, Benvenuto Cellini, etc.). Among the other artistic centers of Italy, only Venice manages to equal it in importance, due to the unique characteristics of the Venetian school of painting, which in those years attended the best part of the production of the Bellini, Giorgione and Titian.
The rest of Europe was already being influenced by the artistic revolution of the First Renaissance or quattrocento (years [thousand] four hundred in Italian), but in reality it was not until the later period, the end of the cinquecento (years [thousand] five hundred in Italian), denominated Under Renaissance or Manierismo, when the impact of the art of the classicist phase of the Renaissance reached all its dimension; and this was due in large part to the extraordinary prestige that scholars such as Vasari, author of the Vite (1550), gave to the geniuses of the generation before his own, even quasi-divinize them (in fact, Rafael was calledil divo – “the divine” -).
In relation to the Renaissance of the mid-fifteenth century, characterized by experimentation on linear perspective, the High Renaissance was characterized by the maturity and balance found in Leonardo’s sfumato ; in the marble volumes of the Michelangelesque terribilitá ; in the colors, textures and the chiaroscuro of the Venetians or the Madonnas of Raphael, which give light and shadows a new prominence; in overtaking the arm in the portraits (as in the Gioconda); in the compositionclear, especially the triangular, marked by the relationship of the figures with looks and postures, particularly in the hands.
Mannerism, although at the moment historiography defines it as an autonomous style by itself, 6 initially it was a derogatory term to designate artists lacking originality, who painted or sculpted the maniera di Miguel Ángel or Rafael. Certainly, the prestige that the artists of the High Renaissance had achieved made them all want to compare themselves with them: an artist of personality as marked as Tintoretto proclaimed to use “the color of Titian and the drawing of Michelangelo”.
During the seventeenth century, presided over by the rupturist aesthetics of the baroque, a classicist trend remained (French classicism, Bolognese school, classicist painting), which continued into the 18th century through the work of the academies and the neoclassical style (this one more well focused on the archaeological recovery of the purity of forms of ancient art), and in contemporary art through academicism, which until the first half of the twentieth century was the official paradigm of art resisting avant-garde innovations. In the mid-nineteenth century, the movementPre-Raphaelite pretended to return to the artisan purity of the painting before Rafael.
High Renaissance in the rest of Europe
The reception of Italian Renaissance forms had been slow and inhomogeneous throughout the fifteenth century; but by the middle of the sixteenth century the widespread dissemination of the works of the High Renaissance, thanks to the engraving and the texts, the treatists (Vasari, Serlio, Vignola, Palladio) had made them a classic canon.
The Nordic renaissance (especially the Flemish revival – Flemish primitives – and the German Renaissance – Dürer, Altdorfer, Grünewald, Danube school -) had developed as an autonomous focus although in fluid relation with Italian, and also marked a classical period that, thanks to the real social and intellectual revolution allowed by the printing press (Gutenberg, 1453), converted the final decade of the 15th century and the first two of the 16th century (dominated politically both in Flanders-Burgundy and in Germany by the rise of Maximilian I of Habsburg) in the scenario of transcendental social, political and ideological changes that culminate in the Protestant Reformation (Luther’s Thesis, 1517).
For the monarchy of the Catholic Monarchs and the first two Habsburgs of Spain (Philip the Fair and Charles I -the Emperor Charles V-) historiography usually refers to the last quarter of the fifteenth century and the first two thirds of the sixteenth century as the High Renaissance in Spain, while for the last third of the sixteenth century, dominated by the ambitious artistic program of Philip II, it reserves the term Under Renaissance in Spain. 7 All the fields of Spanish intellectual production entered a true Golden Age.
See also: Spanish Renaissance, Spanish Renaissance literature, history of science and technology in Spain and History of Christianity in Spain.
The French Renaissance and the English Renaissance also had their peculiar characteristics.
High Renaissance style in architecture conventionally begins with Donato Bramante, whose Tempietto at S. Pietro in Montorio at Rome was begun in 1510. The Tempietto, signifies a full-scale revival of ancient Roman commemorative architecture. David Watkin writes that the Tempietto, like Raphael’s works in the Vatican (1509–11), “is an attempt at reconciling Christian and humanist ideals”.
The High Renaissance was traditionally viewed as a great explosion of creative genius, following a model of art history first proposed by the Florentine Giorgio Vasari. Even relatively minor painters of the period, such as Fra Bartolomeo and Mariotto Albertinelli, produced works that are still lauded for the harmony of their design and their technique. The elongated proportions and exaggerated poses in the late works of Michelangelo, Andrea del Sarto and Correggio prefigure so-called Mannerism, as the style of the later Renaissance is referred to in art history.
The serene mood and luminous colours of paintings by Giorgione and early Titian exemplify High Renaissance style as practiced in Venice. Other recognizable pieces of this period include Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Raphael’s The School of Athens. Raphael’s fresco, set beneath an arch, is a virtuoso work of perspective, composition and disegno.
High Renaissance sculpture, as exemplified by Michelangelo’s Pietà and the iconic David, is characterized by an “ideal” balance between stillness and movement. High Renaissance sculpture was normally commissioned by the public and the state, this becoming more popular for sculpture is an expensive art form. Sculpture was often used to decorate or embellish architecture, normally within courtyards where others were able to study and admire the commissioned art work. Wealthy individuals like cardinals, rulers and bankers were the more likely private patrons along with very wealthy families; Pope Julius II also patronized many artists. During the High Renaissance there was the development of small scale statuettes for private patrons, the creation of busts and tombs also developing. The subject matter related to sculpture was mostly religious but also with a significant strand of classical individuals in the form of tomb sculpture and paintings as well as ceilings of cathedrals.
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